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MIT Perspective on Engineering Systems

06/16/2009 9:15 AM Wong Auditorium
Subra Suresh, ScD '81, Dean, MIT School of Engineering; ; Yossi Sheffi, SM '77, PhD '78, Director, Engineering Systems Division, and Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Engineering Systems
Director, MIT Center for Transportation and Logistics

Description: The field of systems engineering has only recently emerged, and as this symposium demonstrates, defies precise definition. But MIT has taken this evolving area to heart, nurturing a new division and encouraging a raft of ventures that in their execution, may help shape the field for the next century.

An MIT freshman in 1900 had some very specific requirements to fulfill for graduation, and to prepare for a responsible role in society, says Subra Suresh. Courses included mechanical drawing, military science and rhetoric. These choices became richer over time, with the addition of hundreds of engineering faculty, dealing increasingly with the sciences. Suresh traces how over many decades an engineering concentration on metallurgy shifted from studying mining (iron), to aviation (aluminum), plastics, electronic materials and then biological materials. But at each step, he notes, MIT "always lagged behind about 10 years" in what it taught students."

The Engineering Systems Division (ESD) is an attempt to "train people the right way." The curriculum brings the basic rules of nature into engineering practice, and applies discoveries to products and processes that impact people. Students must take into account the "long term societal impact." ESD is needed to link complex issues along technological and social dimensions. The modern engineer must create new ideas and technologies, and reinvent tools and technologies from earlier times -- as Suresh puts it, "Fix problems associated with the greatest achievements of the 20th century."

Yossi Sheffi fine tunes the picture, enumerating the key domains under the ESD umbrella, as well as the approaches faculty have adopted, in research, teaching and real"world projects. The primary distinction between other engineers and ESD engineers, Sheffi notes, is that "we try to look at the big picture." So ESD focuses on critical infrastructure (water, transportation), such extended enterprise as supply chain management and global factories; energy sustainability and health care delivery. To get a handle on such unwieldy subjects, professors examine the human"technological interface, and delve into uncertainty, dynamics, design and implementation, networks and flows, and policy and standards.

MIT's "engineers without labs" are seeking to "develop insights, principles and tools across all systems," forging partnerships in industry, around the world. ESD students and faculty must get out in the field, says Sheffi, not just to fulfill course requirements but in order to tackle significant global problems, and to find solutions that are sustainable in terms of social equity, economic development and environmental impact. ESD values and accepts "intellectual risk," meaning issues that may appear unquantifiable or vague, even without solution, and understands that problem solving means respecting and bringing together all disciplines, including the social sciences and management.

About the Speaker(s): Subra Suresh joined the MIT faculty from Brown University in 1993. He has served as the head of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at MIT, and became Dean of the School of Engineering in 2007. His current research focuses on the mechanical responses of single biological cells and molecules and their implications for human health and diseases. Suresh has published more than 210 articles in journals, and is co"inventor of 14 U.S. and international patents.

Suresh is a member of the National Academy of Engineering, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the Indian National Academy of Engineering. His honors include the Gordon Moore Distinguished Scholar award from CalTech, the Brahm Prakash Visiting Professorship from the Indian Institute of Science, selection by the Institute for Scientific Information as one of the most highly cited researchers in Materials Science, the Clark B. Millikan Visiting Professorship at CalTech, the TFR Swedish National Chair in Engineering from the Royal Instiute of Technology, Stockholm and the Distinguished Alumnus Award from Indian Institute of Technology, Madras. Yossi Sheffi is an expert in systems optimization, risk analysis and supply chain management. He is the founder and the director of MIT's Master of Engineering in Logistics degree. In 2003 he launched the MIT"Zaragoza program, building a new logistics university in Spain based on a unique international academia, government and industry partnership.

Sheffi has authored many journal publications and two books, including The Resilient Enterprise:Overcoming Vulnerability for Competitive Advantage (MIT Press, October 2005).

He obtained his B.Sc. from the Technion in Israel in 1975, his S.M. from MIT in 1977, and Ph.D. from MIT in 1978.

Host(s): School of Engineering, Engineering Systems Division

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MIT World — special events and lectures

MIT World — special events and lectures

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